Critical Benghazi report intensifies pressure for Hillary Clinton to testify

An independent report that faulted the State Department leadership for “systemic failures” leading up to the Benghazi attack is intensifying GOP calls for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to testify on Capitol Hill. 

The report, by the Accountability Review Board (ARB), led by retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen, laid the blame of the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on State’s leadership, finding officials relied too much on Libyan guards at the consulate and that security was “grossly inadequate.” 

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The report did not blame Clinton and singled out State leadership at the assistant secretary level, yet Republicans said they’re not satisfied with Clinton’s vow to quickly adopt the report’s 29 recommendations. 

“While I appreciate the board’s hard work, I am deeply concerned that the unclassified report omits important information the public has a right to know. This includes details about the perpetrators of the attack in Libya as well as the less-than-noble reasons contributing to State Department decisions to deny security resources,” Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who has subpoena power, said in a statement Wednesday. “At some point Secretary Clinton will need to personally address the remaining issues.”

The incoming and outgoing leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee echoed those sentiments.

“Looking to the next Congress, the House Foreign Affairs Committee has much work to do to dig deeper and correct the management deficiencies at the State Department to make our diplomats more secure,” said Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.). “Two State Department deputies will fill in for Secretary Clinton tomorrow. We look forward to her testimony in the new Congress.”

“It is my expectation that Secretary Clinton will come before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and answer for these failures,” said outgoing Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.). “After all, the ARB is about accountability and the failures regarding Benghazi extended well beyond a few individuals or bureaus at State.”

Clinton had been scheduled to testify Thursday at separate Senate and House Foreign Relations committee hearings on Benghazi, but canceled after falling and suffering a concussion while already enduring a severe flu virus. The secretary is now recuperating at home under doctors’ orders, and deputies Thomas Nides and William Burns will testify in her stead. 

The independent report and ongoing controversy surrounding the Benghazi attack, which left U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three others dead, is threatening to extend a controversy that could hound Clinton if she runs for president in 2016. 

The report singled out the State Department’s bureaus of Diplomatic Security and Near Eastern Affairs for a “lack of proactive leadership and management ability in their responses to security concerns.” The Diplomatic Security bureau’s chief, Eric Boswell, and his deputy Charlene Lamb resigned Wednesday along with an unidentified official in the Near Eastern Affairs bureau, The Associated Press reported.

Clinton sought to get ahead of the congressional response in an eight-page letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and other leaders of the House and Senate Foreign Affairs panels. In it, she endorses the report’s 29 recommendations and points to several changes her department has already made since the attack, including instituting periodic reviews of the 15 to 20 high-threat posts and creating a new Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for High Threat Posts “so those Missions that face high risks in dangerous places get the attention they need.”

The report “provides a clear-eyed look at serious, systemic challenges that we have already begun to fix,” Clinton wrote. “Because of steps we began taking in the hours and days after the attacks, this work is well under way.”

The report faulted a lack of coordination between officials in Washington and embassy staff on the ground in Libya for failing to respond to a series of incidents prior to the Sept. 11 attack. 

It found the State Department turned down Stevens’s requests for greater security, resulting in a “security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.”

“What happened on Sept. 11 and 12 in Benghazi was a series of attacks in multiple locations by unknown assailants that ebbed and flowed over a period of almost eight hours,” Pickering told reporters Wednesday at a State Department briefing. “The U.S. security personnel in Benghazi were heroic in their efforts to protect their colleagues, including Ambassador Stevens. They did the best that they possibly could with what they had — but what they had was not enough.

“Frankly, the State Department had not given Benghazi the security … it needed.”

Pickering said the panel fixed responsibility “at the Assistant Secretary level, which is in our view the appropriate place to look, where the decisionmaking in fact takes place — where, if you like, the rubber hits the road.”

Mullen, the board’s co-leader, said those managers “over time certainly didn’t bring [concerns about Benghazi security] to her attention.”